Some people might say that I’m the kind of person who is always looking for trouble. Frankly, I can’t dispute that claim. In fact, I start looking for trouble soon after getting out of bed in the morning, typically around sunrise. That’s when I grab my bottle of soapy water and my pruning shears, and then head out to the garden ... to look for trouble.
Trouble takes many forms. Right now, the trouble is largely with Japanese beetles, who love to taunt me by feeding on the leaves and ripened fruit of my raspberry plants. Since I am harvesting the fruit every day, I shun spraying the plants, even with an organic insecticide. Instead, I either handpick the little critters or tip the beetle laden leaves so that the insects fall into the jar of soapy water. One reason for doing this early in the morning is that the beetles are a little lethargic. I assume that they like to sleep in a little later than I do. When disturbed, they fold in their legs and drop to the ground or preferably into a soapy bath. Later in the day, they are more alert and are more likely to take flight at the sight of a trouble seeker.
One of the things I find both interesting and frustrating is that, no matter how many beetles I find and remove each day, there are just as many on the plants the very next day. It almost seems as if the beetles have reserve forces, constantly waiting to stir up trouble once the first group is destroyed.
Another troubling issue with the beetles relates to the defoliation of my young copper beech tree by gypsy moth caterpillars earlier this year. As is often the case with trees and shrubs that lose all or most of their leaves to insects in spring, they regenerate a new set of leaves. This is happening now with the copper beech. Unfortunately, I am finding Japanese beetles eating holes in these new leaves. Could this be in retaliation for my efforts to eliminate their fellow beetles? Uh, no! It is normal for many leaf-eating insects to seek young succulent foliage to dine on.
What about the pruners I carry with me on my morning trouble-seeking treks through the garden? With the frequent deluges over the past four weeks, plant diseases are beginning to be troublesome, especially foliar diseases, such as early blight and leaf spot on tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant. The fungi causing these infections spread to the plants by water splashing up on the plants from the soil. As such, it is the lowest leaves on the plants which are first infected. One method of managing the diseases is to prune off the infected lower leaves. Be sure to sterilize pruners after each cut by spraying or wiping them with isopropyl alcohol. For protection against the diseases, wait for a dry day and spray the plants with an organic fungicide, such as Serenade.
The bottom line is that you can’t make your troubles go away when you are a gardener, but it helps to be vigilant and be a trouble seeker.
NOT-SO-TROUBLING GARDEN TASKS
Cast your troubles aside and enjoy these garden tasks:
- Prune or pinch back the tips of basil, mints, lemon verbena, lemon, balm and sages to prevent them from flowering. Once these herbs start producing flowers and seed, their growth slows or stops.
- Apply fertilizer to long season crops, even if you did so at the beginning of July. Since nitrogen and potassium readily leach from the soil during prolonged spells of rainy weather, it is likely that these nutrients are deficient at this time.
- Harvest garlic as soon as the lower third of the leaves turn brown. After harvesting, tie the plants in bunches and hang these in a dry, airy location, such as a garden shed, garage or dry, ventilated basement. Another option is to spread the harvested plants on racks. I’ve made racks by attaching half-inch mesh hardware cloth or small mesh chicken wire to a wood frame. Allow at least four weeks for thorough drying, which will be indicated by the skin of the bulbs becoming papery. Of course, you don’t have to wait that long if you need some garlic for a recipe. However, thorough drying is critical if garlic is to be stored.
- Sow seeds of mustard or sudan x sorghum as a ground cover where garlic grew. These cover crops have a natural chemical component that kills nematodes, a pest associated with garlic.
- Dig a trench in a vacant area of the vegetable garden and bury vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and other organic waste if you don’t want to bother with a compost pile. The trench should be about a foot deep and the waste piled no more than 8 inches deep. Place a layer of grass clippings, a good source of nitrogen to promote decomposition, over the waste materials. Finally, complete filling in the trench by covering with soil.
- Remove spent rose flowers by cutting back the stem to just above a leaflet with five leaves. A new stem should emerge from that point and provide another bloom.
- Be aware that roots of grass growing in saturated soil tend to be near the surface rather than penetrating deep into the soil. This is due to the lack of oxygen in the water-logged soil, something that has been common during the long stretch of drenching rains. As such, do not cut grass too low or let it get too high between mowings. Maintain a cutting height of no less than 3 inches or more than 4 inches.